In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Truth or Lie – which to vote for in May ?


For me, one of the best news items in recent days has been Peter Oborne’s resignation from The Telegraph on a point of principle.

I hadn’t even heard his name before, but suddenly here he is, more prominent and sharply focused than almost anything else in the parade of parrot heads and slogans we are so used to.

This respected man of apparently right wing views has accused The Telegraph of tailoring its news coverage to suit its own commercial interests, thereby betraying the trust of its readership. His headline example was The Telegraph’s reticence concerning the HSBC tax dodging scandal, in which the bank’s Swiss branch advised the rich of various nations on how to avoid their tax responsibilities. But Oborne has talked of this as just the last straw, the latest in a succession of signs of deterioration of various kinds. He has pointed the finger at The Telegraph Media Group’s present chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, and The Telegraph’s owners, the beaming Barclay Brothers, Sir Frederick and Sir David, who live in a mock-Gothic castle on a small channel island called Brecqhou, near the island of Sark. These identical twins have a reputation for having sophisticated tax arrangements which include the use of at least one known tax haven.

How refreshingly different from the common. A lone man of principle, skilled with words, using them powerfully, and having real impact. Taking on Big Money and Big Lie. The lonely sheriff who does not flinch as the clock ticks towards High Noon. Something clear and even noble emerges out of the usual foggy tissue of Sell and Spin and Sleaze.

Is he a bit of a romantic, with an idealised vision of those better days at The Telegraph he cites, when apparently Truth was master, served faithfully at all levels of the operation ?

Maybe, but it makes no odds if so. The principle he is stating is essential and transcends all else. Sell and Spin is an active wickedness and a cancer. Its creatures grow and grow in number and have spread imperceptibly and everywhere, way beyond The Telegraph and similar examples of our hooligan press, way beyond our hooliganised, our infantilised, House of Commons, that poisonous Westminster “bubble” which New Labour did so much to foster. Democracy and civilisation itself are threatened by Spin, the rule of the lie and of the liar. Without a shared currency of truth-telling, and the communal trust it engenders, our society is bankrupted and shattered and every individual in it is made a pauper and an outcast.

So we owe this man our thanks. So do those of his colleagues who agree with his position and his decision to act, but did not act themselves and so must carry on in creature mode, silenced and colluding. He has shown them and the rest of us what being human means. The vision helps and lifts the spirits of the enslaved, the creatured.

And let us note what this man of principle, with his tendency to identify himself with the right wing, has to say about Ed Miliband. Miliband is scorned and insulted on a regular basis by the orchestrated parrot heads and licensed rude-boys of the right, whom we now know so well. But this very month, in a piece in The Spectator, Oborne argued that Miliband has been a consistent and strong leader of the Opposition and, like Margaret Thatcher, has forged his own course, changing the terms of the debate on big business, foreign policy, Israel-Palestine and the power of the Murdoch press. He wrote that Miliband is the most accomplished Opposition leader since the Second World War.

Compare that measured judgement to the puerile play-ground bully-boy insults usually hurled at Miliband by right-wingers, both press and politicians, all the way up to the sleek disgraceful operator presently polluting and demeaning the high office of UK Prime Minister.

Oborne’s respect for Miliband makes you wonder, in passing, what he thinks of Cameron. More important, assuming he identifies himself as belonging towards the right of the political spectrum, what set of beliefs does Oborne, this man of obvious intelligence and integrity and high principle, associate with that place on the spectrum, so that he wants to stay there ? I see the present government of the UK as being in many respects the worst and most disgraceful there has been in my memory, perhaps ever. It is the blind and vicious leading the blind and irresponsibly gullible. And it is a government of the Right (on the one hand minutely restrained, and on the other largely abetted, by a few tame rabbits led by Clegg). Aside from this nightmare of hooliganism, lies and demented greed, is there, after all, somewhere on the right of the political spectrum that one could actually respect ? Can anything be built there ?

In terms of numbers and institutional import, a larger recent event than Oborne’s resignation, with its strong words and reference to high principle, has been the Bishops’ letter in preparation for the coming UK general election. Some while ago, I wrote a post here, criticising the church for its low profile on issues that mattered. See : 

Then the Roman Catholic Cardinal Nichols spoke up about food banks and used the word “disgraceful” to describe them and the need for them. (Instantly, Davey boy and his head pet rabbit leapt into camera shot and said Nichols was exaggerating). And I thought, aha, that’s better, I can see the Church now and it is speaking truth again. I wrote another post –

And now, with this latest very strong intervention, the Church and other faiths have made themselves even more correctly visible, in witness of the truth, with a statement of real strength (possibly implying a state of social emergency in doing so), and we can give thanks for Archbishop Welby as a man worthy of his calling and of his role.

The Bishops’ letter is another reminder that there are such things as principle and values and community and they all matter centrally, and while it avoids taking political sides, it makes clear statements about social responsibility and concern for the poor. This of course has raised the hackles of some of the anti-social louts presently abusing the power that we the people have so tamely allowed them and again Davey-boy pops into focus and for a few moments claims a truer Christian witness than the Bishops’ own, in glibly refuting them. Then he dashes off to continue his depredations, his rending of our common weal and bindings, his kicking of the poor.

And having reached this point, let us not forget a similar recent process, when the King’s Fund, a prestigious independent body, produced its report on the NHS. It declared that the Lansley changes which the Coalition Government had sprung on the electorate after coming into power (The Tories having kept their plans for the NHS back from their manifesto – a clear indication – surely – of contempt for democracy, for principle and for the British people), these changes had been – predictably – a disaster. In answer, the government spokesperson did not bat an eye-lid. The report, years in the preparing and written by experts, was simply wrong, the person said. And anyway, it had mentioned one or two positives and these were all that mattered. Reality is what it suits us it should be.

Precisely so. Reality has become what it suits us it should be. And if reality doesn’t suit our purposes, or our purses, or our comfort, we’ll bat it away and pretend it’s something else. We will spin it into whatever shape might serve us.

Oborne objected to The Telegraph putting its own commercial interests before its duty to truth and fact and its community. Nah nah nah, was the answer. You’re wrong. Sleep on. Your nightmare is now. Cardinal Nichols and the bodies he represents objected to the scandal of the food banks in the UK. Nah nah nah, was the answer. You’re wrong. Sleep on. Your nightmare is now. The King’s Fund demonstrated vividly a disastrous fragmenting of the NHS, weakening it when it should have been strengthened. Nah nah nah was the answer. You’re wrong. Sleep on. Your nightmare is now.  The Bishops and other faith leaders objected to irresponsible political game playing that has encouraged scapegoating and the abuse of the poor and the stranger, for political ends. Nah nah nah, was the answer. You’re wrong. Sleep on. Your nightmare is now.

And what will be the UK electorate’s answer, on election day ?

Will we wake up in time ? Do we want to ? Do we dare ? Or do we prefer our present sleep, our present nightmare ?